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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Home Alone and Passover


Courtesy of our High Holy Day cantor, Alan Rubinstein, I had the opportunity to watch a recorded dialogue between two of my distinguished colleagues in the Los Angeles area, Rabbis David Wolpe and Ed Feinstein. They reflected on dealing with the current situation. Rabbi Wolpe suggested that this year we find ourselves like our ancestors at the first seder: not quite free. We find ourselves unredeemed; waiting for the moment of liberation from physical isolation from family, friends, and neighbors. And yet, as he pointed out we live in a remarkable age of blessings. We are blessed with dedicated medical personnel and researchers who are working valiantly to cope with this medical crisis and serviced by others who provide our food and medicines and deliveries. But the greatest blessing is that though we can’t be together physically, we can do so electronically. Zoom and similar technologies have enabled us to link to each other, to classes, to services, and more. It is amazing to see how many opportunities to be inspired and to learn now exist during this crisis.


Our initial efforts here at Beth Sholom may have had a couple of small glitches, but over-all, we did well: 7-8 different families and individuals logged on both for Friday night and Saturday morning. (There was some overlap between the two groups. My thanks to all of you who participated. ) Going forward, for the foreseeable future, we shall continue these Zoomed gatherings. To expand on what we can do on Friday nights, I would urge you to pick up a prayer book or two from our front porch. And Saturday morning, we will continue to focus on our Torah discussion—questions are part of today’s packet--, though we probably will conclude with the final sections of the service. And yes, we will include a prayer for all those who are ill and those caring for them, recite Kaddish as well as Kiddush on both occasions. (Information about our arrangements for Passover will be forthcoming.) Use the links that were sent out a couple of days ago. They will be good for the next two months.


In years past, my two brothers and their families have joined us for one of the seders. This year the Waxman seder was going to be more intimate. My youngest brother, Hillel told me that his oldest son, Ariya and his wife Nicole and their two children were going to a cousin; and his son Kia was not flying home from Amsterdam, where he is spending several months for his firm. It was going to be only Hillel, his wife Shoreh, and their daughter, Lailee. Meanwhile, David’s son Avir is off in California and was at best a maybe, though presumably Jessye was coming down from Boston.  But now in the light of the Coronavirus outbreak, it appears that our Waxman seder will be an even smaller assemblage than planned: we will have seder for two. And sadly, we probably won’t host any company the other night: again, seder for two.


For us it will be not difficult to organize such an intimate ritual. (Sarrae and I will just cook a lot less than usual, and we will forego Sarrae’s home-made gefilte fish in favor or a reconstituted gefilte fish roll.)  But I suspect that for some of you reading this conducting a seder may be a challenge. It can be daunting. I remember that a few years ago, my brother Hillel called me and asked me for some guidelines for leading a seder, because for the first time in his life he was not going to be at someone else’s seder one of the two nights. You may find yourselves in a situation similar to that of my brother: forced to lead a seder for the first time and now for a very intimate group. Fortunately, there are ample resources out there: on-line haggadot (Hebrew plural of haggadah), internet sources for seder songs to enhance the experience, places from which you can still order multiple copies of a specific haggadah, as well on-line stores from which you can order a seder plate and other seder accoutrements—, is one such resource. (Though I should note, while cleaning up, I came across two seder plates that Sarrae took from her parents’ home, when she cleaned it out over a decade ago. If you would like one, be in touch and we will be glad to give you one.) And if you need some help and guidance, please be in touch. (


But, perhaps none of us will be totally alone. Earlier this week, a group of Sephardic rabbis in Israel decreed that if the computer is turned on before the holiday then one can have zoomed seders. We have a somewhat more permissive view about the use of electricity—though as it noted last week, I traditionally turn my computer off for Shabbat and Yom Tov--: this is, however, is a Sha’at D’chak, a time of emergency, and so recognized by my Conservative colleagues. And so it will be a case of Zoom to the rescue. If we can figure it out, I hope that we can link to my siblings and some of their children through Zoom, at least for portions of our sedarim. It will reduce the sense of social isolation and enable us to join in a rousing chorus of “Ballad of the 4 Sons.”


So, home alone for Passover, but hopefully not feeling totally alone.


Shabbat shalom.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


An All-in-one Body Scan


The Star Trek universe offered the promise of a future where doctors didn’t have to poke and prod you but you could be scanned with a portable medical tricorder or if more tests were required you could lie on a biobed. An Israeli entrepreneur, Ran Poliakine, hopes to offer a machine that promises to be non-invasive and that can easily scan your whole body as part of a regular checkup.


Nanox, he claims, will bring X-ray imaging “from the dark ages to the 21st century.” Nanox will provide a full-body digital x-ray scan down to the cellular level. “Because it’s digital, it’s multispectral. You don’t need different machines to do different kinds of imaging,” said Poliakine. Say goodbye to mammography, CT, and other scans.


Poliakine sees his system as an affordable prevention tool. He notes that his system will detect cancers at an earlier stage. Nanox uses x-rays but its digital capabilities will control exposure time for radiation. He contends that Nanox could dramatically reduce the time required for a mammogram and moreover would not require the discomfort of pressing the breasts between two plates.


Nanox.Arc has been tested at a number of facilities, including Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. The plan calls for the system to receive regulatory approval in several countries this year, with mass deployment in 2021 and 2022. “Our aspiration is to place 15,000 systems in the next 24 months, “said the CEO. The machines designed in Israel will be manufactured in Taiwan.


Earlier this year, Nanox secured $55 million in funding from a variety of backers and earlier this month it signed $174 million worth of agreements with The Gateway Group to enable the deployment of 1,000 Nanox.Arc units in Australia, New Zealand and Norway.






Payrush LaParashah:

 A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


With this week’s reading, we begin the book of Leviticus. The reading this Shabbat, March 28th, is Vahyikrah (Leviticus 1:1-2:16)


2:11 No grain offering that you offer to the Lord shall be mad with leaven, for no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as a gift to the Lord. (12) You may bring them to the Lord as an offering of choice products; but they shall not be offered up on the altar for a pleasing odor.


2:11 for no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as a gift to the Lord. Rabbi Yoseph Shaul Natanson [Joseph Saul Nathanson] in his book, Divray Shaul [The Words of Saul] writes as follows: Leaven and honey represent two extremes, both in their physical nature and in their quality and taste. In the instruction not to offer on the altar “any leaven or any honey” the Torah comes to teaches us that extremes are not beneficial to a person, and we should distance ourselves from every form of extremism and to choose “the moderate path“(which is called “the golden mean”)—as Maimonides taught us (in his introduction to the tractate of [Pirke] Avot, chapter 4). (Cited in Menahem Baker, Parperaot LaTora: Vahyikrah. Rabbi Natanson [Joseph Saul Nathanson] was born in 1808 in Berezhany, then in Galicia—part of Austria-Hungary—and now in western Ukraine. His father was the communal rabbi. After his marriage in 1825, he moved to Lvov [also known as Lemberg; now Lviv, Ukraine]. His initial years in the community were devoted to study and writing, along with his brother-in-law, Mordechai Ze’ev Ettinger. In 1848, he established a small yeshiva in the community. He was designated as communal rabbi in 1857 and held that post until his death. Apparently, his appointment led to a falling-out with Rabbi Ettinger. A prolific author, his responsa, Sho’ayl UMaysheev [Ask and Respond], appeared in six volumes, and included 3,000 responsa! His responsum on permitting the use of machinery in baking matzah was one of the first permitting its use, and generated extensive controversy in rabbinic circles. Other rulings dealt with the issue of agunot, of “chained women”, those unable to remarry, including women whose husbands refused to give them a religious divorce or had deserted them or whose deaths were unverified. In his early years, he and his brother-in-law published manuscripts of rabbinic texts. Together they published a commentary on the work of their uncle, Moshe Yehoshua Heschel Orenstein, Yam HaTalmud [The Sea of the Talmud], called Mefarshe HaYam [Intrepreters of the Sea]. His sermons on the weekly portion were published as Divray Shaul [The Words of Saul]. He also issued a commentary on the Haggadah with the same title and a number of rabbinic works, including Haggahot HaShas [Notes on the Babylonian Talmud] and Ner Ma’arabi [The Western Light], which represented his comments on the Palestinian Talmud. His yeshivah emphasized the development of a generation of dayanim, of legal decisors. He was wealthy and supported the publication of rabbinic literature both in Galicia and in the Russian Pale of Settlement and aided some of his students in establishing publishing houses that specialized in rabbinical literature. He died in 1875.)






Questions for Vahyikrah 5780 (Leviticus 1:1-2:16)


  1. Why is the first word Vahyikrah written with a small Aleph at the end?
  2. Is the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed) the same place as the Sanctuary (Mishkan)?
  3. What ritual act does the offerant have to perform before the animal is sacrificed? Why?
  4. Where and how is the blood splashed against the altar?
  5. What is the meaning of Rayach Nechoach, a pleasing odor? Did the Bible assume that God was blessed with olfactory senses?
  6. What different procedures are involved in offering turtle-doves or pigeons as burnt offerings?
  7. The meal offering is to have Solet, translated as “Choice flour.” How much flour was required?
  8. Was EVOO required for the sacrificial offerings?
  9. How did the priest measure out the right amount of flour and oil for the sacrifice? Was there a standard measure?
  10. How much of the meal offering is eaten by the priests and how much is burnt on the altar?
  11. What ingredients are definitively banned from the meal offering? Why are they banned, if they are permitted as “first fruits?”
  12. What one additional ingredient is mandated for meal offerings?
  13. 2:14 mentions new ears parched with fire and grits of the fresh grain. Is the text referring to corn and corn grits? If not, to what is it referring?
Sat, March 28 2020 3 Nisan 5780